Such Great Heights
The HSUS’s Pets for Life message continues to spread
by Michael Sharp
Christie Rogero was walking home one day years ago in San Francisco, where she was studying theater at the time, when she saw a small crowd gathered outside a row house. They were all staring up at a cat stranded on a roof.
“I’ll do it,” she told the crowd, and up she went—her fear of heights and all. Scaling a thin metal ladder, she clung to the third-story roof with one hand and safely corralled the cat with the other. Later she’d think, with a laugh: “What the hell was I doing?”
It wouldn’t be the last time she set aside her fears to help an animal.
In late summer 2012, the Animal Welfare Association in New Jersey—where Rogero works as the targeted spay/neuter manager—received one of 10 PetSmart Charities grants to implement The HSUS’s Pets for Life program in a targeted neighborhood of Camden.
Program staff help animals in underserved communities by first building relationships with their owners, door by door. Inspired by a presentation at The HSUS’s Animal Care Expo, and with her executive director’s support, Rogero had pushed hard to win the $35,000 grant.
As she got ready to start, though, the constant warnings about Camden, and its reputation as one of America’s most dangerous cities, began to weigh heavily. “I was really, really nervous the first time I went in.”
But then she watched Ashley Mutch—manager of the Philadelphia Pets for Life program—walk up to a group of guys standing on a corner. She watched Mutch introduce herself and the program. She watched everyone’s body language soften.
“It was this amazing moment. Just like, ‘Oh wow, it’s this easy.’ ”
And off she went. The Animal Welfare Association proceeded to arrange 555 spay/neuter surgeries over its first year. In 2014, Camden will be one of 18 cities receiving grants and mentorships, along with HSUS-staffed programs in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“It’s exciting, of course, just to see the philosophy grow,” says Amanda Arrington, Pets for Life director, noting the many strides that can occur now on a single day, from 500 people standing in line for a free vaccination in St. Louis, to a new client signing up to spay his dogs in Des Moines. “When you get to, in one given moment, see it happening in all these communities across the country, it really blows you away.”
Like the night in Camden when a man named Carlos approached Rogero as she returned pets from their spay/neuter surgeries. He acknowledged he’d been nervous earlier that day, watching her drive off with the animals, but was more trusting now that he saw her bringing them back.
Carlos needed help with his pets—five cats, three dogs, and a colony of outdoor cats—so she followed him home. To this day, he’s one of the program’s biggest advocates, spreading the word, even translating voicemails from Spanish-speaking clients.
The key, Rogero says, is “building those relationships.” The initial unease, she’s realized, extended both ways. A person, anywhere, is much more likely to entrust their pet, or even just open their door, to a friend.
“It’s completely changed my life,” she says. “… I’m not afraid of Camden; I’m comfortable. I feel like I have friends and family in Camden, and it’s not something that I ever would have pictured a year ago.”
The updated version of the Pets for Life Toolkit will be available at animalsheltering.org in March. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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